REFLECTIONS ON WHAT PRO-LIFE REALLY MEANS

Truly being pro-life would rationally mean being pro-child, and also pro-parent and pro-family, but that’s not the way the term is typically used. (See this previous post for a discussion of this.) A similar disconnect exists with the term “family values” as it’s used by many right-wing politicians. Pro-child and pro-family (i.e., truly pro-life) state and federal policies would, among other things, provide economic supports for families with children. Economic security, self-sufficiency, mobility, and well-being are all linked to better outcomes for children, mothers, and families. They are also linked to abortion rights, so being truly pro-child and pro-family means supporting abortion rights.

(Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.)

States where abortion is legal and accessible have lower rates of poverty, family financial hardship, teen births and marriages, and maternal mortality, especially for Black women. These states also have higher labor force participation, earnings, and educational attainment, again, especially for Black women. As Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has said, “Eliminating the rights of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.” [1]

The states that are restricting abortion rights while also providing limited supports for children, mothers, and families (see this previous post which identifies MS, LA, AL, AR, OK, and WY as the worst ones) would seem to be engaged in an intentional effort to disempower and economically subjugate women. [2] As Meyerson writes in his analysis of the misuse of the term pro-life, “There is, however, one plausible explanation for their determination to compel women to carry unwanted pregnancies through to birth and … make sure that life after birth … will be hard. The common thread … is a punitive misogyny,” [3] in other words, a desire to punish and control women.

Legal and accessible abortion is essential not only to women’s economic well-being, but also to their humanity, dignity, life, liberty (freedom to make important decisions for oneself), and pursuit of happiness. Therefore, being truly pro-life means supporting economic justice and reproductive justice.

As an example of truly pro-life policy making, President Biden recently announced a major initiative to end hunger in America by 2030 while also increasing healthy eating. [4] Pandemic relief measures were also critical pro-life policies that supported children and families. They reduced child poverty and food insecurity by roughly 25% from pre-pandemic levels. However, the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which was one of the pandemic relief policies, was not extended when it expired in December 2021. As a result, food insecurity in households with children is up 12%. The expiration of other pandemic relief measures has pushed food insecurity well above pre-pandemic levels. Lack of access to good nutritional meals can have negative consequences for children’s cognitive and social-emotional development, for their ability to learn in school, and for their health, with potentially lifelong effects. [5] Therefore, efforts to address hunger and nutrition are definitely pro-life and the failure to do so is anything but pro-life, despite the fact that some politicians who claim to be “pro-life” and to support “family values” are stingy when it comes to funding programs to reduce hunger.

As a bit of an aside, the number of intentional abortions in the U.S. has been steadily declining for 30 years. It has declined over 40% from roughly 1.6 million per year in the 1980s to about 900,000 in 2020. There has been an even bigger decline in the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age (between 15 and 44) from 29.3 in 1980 to 13.5 in 2017, a 54% decline. [6] One might think that “pro-life” people would be celebrating this accomplishment but they aren’t. The causes for this decline aren’t known definitively. Access to and use of contraception is undoubtedly an important contributor to reducing abortions, however, “pro-life,” anti-abortion people are typically opposed to promotion of contraception. Reduced sexual activity by teens is another contributor to the decline, which “pro-life,” anti-abortion people generally support. These positions are driven in large part by religious beliefs: sex outside of marriage is wrong and access to contraceptives encourages sex, so contraceptives are bad. Some religious beliefs go so far as to assert that sex should be engaged in only for the purposes of procreation, and contraception is antithetical to this belief.

The assertion that a fertilized human egg is a person and should be given all the rights of personhood and, therefore, that all abortions should be banned is typically based on religious beliefs. Interestingly, the only religious group where a majority of members oppose abortion rights is white, evangelical Protestants. Perhaps surprisingly, 64% of white Catholics support abortion rights, as do 75% of Hispanic Catholics.

An examination of the history of evangelical opposition to abortion reveals a concerted effort by Republicans to convince evangelicals to take this position. As recently as 1976, the Southern Baptist Convention, a centerpiece of white evangelical religion, passed a resolution declaring that having an abortion was a matter to be decided by a woman and her doctor. In general, evangelicals oppose government intrusion into individuals’ beliefs, decisions, and actions.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Republicans realized that their pro-business and pro-wealth policies weren’t going to capture a majority of voters. So, their strategists identified “culture wars” as a way to broaden their support and get people to vote against their economic interests. Core elements of the culture wars were abortion, homosexuality, and racism, with racism initially raised with innuendo and dog whistles so it was disguised and could be denied. The culture wars were a key component of the Republicans’ “southern strategy” to turn southern Democrats into Republican voters. The Republicans’ southern strategy, particularly subtle racism, was used in Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign and Nixon’s campaigns in 1968 and 1972.

It wasn’t until the late 1970s that Republicans began a long and ultimately successful campaign to convince evangelicals to oppose abortion. They did so by claiming that abortion rights were part of a women’s movement that sought to upend patriarchal control and the traditional family. In 1979, a right-wing, Republican consultant, Paul Weyrich, and minister Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority organization. Its goal was to move southern and evangelical voters away from Democrats and President Jimmy Carter, who, ironically, was a southern evangelical Christian. Abortion, feminism, and their supposed undermining of traditional values and families were core wedge issues of the Republicans’ culture wars. [7]

The bottom line is that for five decades Republicans have used anti-abortion rhetoric, and a false “pro-life” moniker, for political purposes. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned the right to an abortion, the hypocrisy and insincerity of their political rhetoric is being exposed as Republican candidates are disavowing their past anti-abortion rhetoric to try to win in November’s elections. Some candidates are dramatically flip-flopping, while others are just eliminating their opposition to abortion from their talking points and websites, because, having won their primary elections, they now want to appeal to a broader set of voters. These candidates have been claiming to be “pro-life,” and defining it as meaning anti-abortion, solely for political purposes.

[1]      Banerjee, A., 5/18/22, “Abortion rights are economic rights,” Economic Policy Institute (https://www.epi.org/blog/abortion-rights/)

[2]      Banerjee, A. 5/18/22, see above

[3]      Meyerson, H., 8/26/22, “ ‘Pro-life’: America’s most patently absurd misnomer,” The American Prospect (https://prospect.org/politics/pro-life-americas-most-patently-absurd-misnomer/), page 6

[4]      The White House, 9/28/22, “The Biden-Harris Administration announces more than $8 billion in new commitments as part of call to action for White House Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health,” (https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/09/28/fact-sheet-the-biden-harris-administration-announces-more-than-8-billion-in-new-commitments-as-part-of-call-to-action-for-white-house-conference-on-hunger-nutrition-and-health/)

[5]      Stancil, K., 5/20/22, “Millions more kids going hungry since GOP, Manchin killed expanded child tax credit,” Common Dreams (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2022/05/20/millions-more-kids-going-hungry-gop-manchin-killed-expanded-child-tax-credit)

[6]      Diamant, J., & Mohamed, B., 6/24/22, “What the data says about abortion in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/06/24/what-the-data-says-about-abortion-in-the-u-s-2/)

[7]      Meyerson, H., 8/26/22, see above

WHAT PRO-LIFE REALLY MEANS

By John A. Lippitt, Ph.D., and Kirtly Parker Jones, M.D., OB/GYN

The Supreme Court’s overturning of the right to an abortion prior to fetal viability has put a spotlight on what it means to be “pro-life.” Right-wing Republicans declare that being “pro-life” means asserting that life begins at conception, i.e., fertilization. Therefore, they say, our laws should declare that a fertilized human egg is a person and should be given all the rights of personhood. If an individual believes, typically based on religious beliefs, that human (sacred) life begins at conception, they have every right to believe that, to lead their life based on that belief, and to try to convince others to live their lives that way. However, they do not have a right to impose that belief on others; that’s one important example of what a right to freedom of religion means.

(Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.)

A declaration in our laws that life and personhood begin at fertilization has many implications. It means, of course, that anything that prevents a fertilized egg from being born as living, breathing, presumably healthy baby is murder. It would criminalize some forms of contraception. Most forms of contraception primarily either stop ovulation (egg production) or prevent egg fertilization, but they can also reduce the likelihood of successful implantation of a fertilized egg, which could be considered murder. A personhood-at-fertilization law would make any miscarriage subject to a criminal investigation as to its cause. [1] Theoretically, the failure of a pregnant women to take steps to minimize the likelihood of a miscarriage could be criminalized, such as a failure to stop smoking, maintain a healthy weight, control diabetes, or cease use of alcohol and drugs, including some legal drugs.

Understanding the implications of a declaration that personhood begins at fertilization requires understanding the development of a pregnancy. Fertilization occurs in the fallopian tubes and it typically takes 3 – 4 days for the fertilized egg to reach the uterus. It then takes 2 – 6 more days for the fertilized egg to implant itself into the uterine lining where it will grow, assuming all goes well, for the next 38 or so weeks until birth.

Many fertilized eggs have abnormalities in their chromosomes. This means they cannot produce a viable fetus and typically die because they fail to successfully implant in the uterus or result in a miscarriage early in pregnancy. However, under a personhood-at-fertilization law, all deaths of a fertilized egg would be an illegal abortion and a murder.

Some fertilized eggs can get stuck in the fallopian tubes and an ectopic pregnancy results, which is life threatening if the embryo is not removed. But this would be an abortion and murder under a personhood law, unless a specific exception is included in such a law.

Overall, between a third and a half of all fertilized eggs do not implant in the uterus and therefore die. However, under personhood-at-fertilization laws, each such event would potentially be subject to a criminal investigation. This would also be true of any intentional or accidental destruction of a fertilized egg stored at a fertility clinic.

Somewhere between 7 and 9.5 million human eggs get fertilized each year in the U.S. Somewhere between 2.5 and 4.5 million of them don’t successfully implant in the uterus and do not lead to a viable fetus. Under proposed personhood laws, these would be considered abortions and potential murders, although in many cases the woman is not even aware that this has happened.

For medical professionals, pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg has successfully implanted itself in the uterus, roughly a week after fertilization. There are 4.5 to 5.0 million pregnancies in the U.S. each year. Roughly 18% of them are ended through intentional abortions, about 900,000 per year. A similar number, about 20% or 1 million, end through a miscarriage. [2]

If a person were truly pro-life (as opposed to anti-abortion), they would do everything they could to ensure that every pregnancy produced a vibrant, healthy baby. Prenatal and even pre-pregnancy care for women of child bearing age would be a priority. Furthermore, post-partum care for every baby and mother would be a high priority too, as would care and supports for children and their families from infanthood to adulthood.

An examination at the state level reveals that the six states that are most strongly anti-abortion (based on polls that find support for abortion rights is 49% or less) are the states with the worst records for supporting mothers and babies before, during, and after childbirth, despite the claims of at least their politicians to be “pro-life”. Indicators of their lack of support for mothers and babies include: [3]

  • Mississippi: ranks 50th among the states with the worst (i.e., highest) rate of infant mortality and ranks 45th worst on its rate of maternal mortality; it refused to expand Medicaid to cover more low-income families under the Affordable Care Act (aka Obama Care), despite the fact that Medicaid is the source of health insurance coverage for many low-income mothers and their babies
  • Louisiana: ranks 49th worst on infant mortality
  • Alabama: ranks 48th worst on infant mortality, 48th worst on maternal mortality, and refused to expand Medicaid
  • Arkansas: ranks 47th worst on infant mortality and 50th worst on maternal mortality
  • Oklahoma: ranks 46th worst on infant mortality
  • Wyoming: ranks 47th worst on its rate of women without medical insurance and refused to expand Medicaid

Conversely, polls find that in 14 states 70% or more of the population support abortion rights. In these states, support for mothers and babies is strong. All have implemented the Medicaid expansion and nine have enacted paid family and medical leave that includes coverage for when a new baby arrives. Another, less specific measure of support for parents, especially young parents, is the level of the minimum wage. Five of the six anti-abortion states listed above (Arkansas is the exception) have a minimum wage at the lowest level federal law allows, $7.25 per hour. On the other hand, 13 of the 14 states with strong support for abortion rights (New Hampshire is the exception) have minimum wages well above the federal $7.25 level. [4] By improving incomes and economic security, a higher minimum wage improves the well-being and outcomes of children, mothers, and families.

It’s hard to truthfully claim that you’re “pro-life” when you have high infant mortality, high maternal mortality, don’t provide health insurance to low-income mothers and babies, and/or maintain low wages for parents. As former U.S. Representative Barney Frank once quipped, many of these supposedly “pro-life” people seem to believe that “life begins at conception and ends at birth” at least from a public policy perspective.

Being pro-life should mean being pro-child, and also pro-parent and pro-family. Pro-child state and federal policies would support health, food, and nutrition benefits for mothers and children; a living wage for parents; affordable, high quality early childhood education and child care; and so forth. Being pro-life should mean being pro-mother and pro-woman, making contraception readily available, and leaving the decision about terminating a pregnancy to a woman and her doctor. To be truly and morally consistently pro-life, one would also have to be against capital punishment and war. Some people are consistently pro-life but many of those who claim to be “pro-life” are not.

The far-right won a battle in the culture war when they framed their anti-abortion stance as “pro-life” and the pro-abortion people lost when they used “pro-choice.” The pro-abortion folks should have framed their stance as pro-child and pro-woman, instead of pro-choice. But they didn’t. So, here we are today, fighting to take back the language and the law about what it really means to be pro-life.

[1]      Bartlett, J., 5/14/22, “Examining the biology of birth control,” The Boston Globe

[2]      Guttmacher Institute, Sept. 2019, “Induced abortion in the United States,” retrieved from the Internet on 9/16/22 (https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/factsheet/fb_induced_abortion.pdf)

[3]      Meyerson, H., 8/26/22, “ ‘Pro-life’: America’s most patently absurd misnomer,” The American Prospect (https://prospect.org/politics/pro-life-americas-most-patently-absurd-misnomer/)

[4]      Banerjee, A., 5/18/22, “Abortion rights are economic rights,” Economic Policy Institute (https://www.epi.org/blog/abortion-rights/)

THE HARMS OF INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK, AND SOCIAL MEDIA

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

The news that Facebook and Instagram are harmful, especially to teens and young people, is not new. In 2006, a college professor, Joni Siani, whose class on Interpersonal Communications had access to Facebook a year before the public, found almost immediately that the Facebook experience was stressful and depressing for her students. Her class effectively became a Facebook group therapy session. That’s the beginning of a story I’ll come back to in a minute. [1] (By the way, Facebook and Instagram are now part of a new corporate entity, Meta Platforms. This name change seems to me to be an effort to obfuscate responsibility and accountability for the harms caused by Facebook and Instagram.)

In 2019, the docudrama The Social Dilemma came out, which highlights the manipulation and harms of social media. I encourage you to watch the film (on Netflix) or at least watch the 2 ½ minute trailer that’s available on the website. I urge you to explore the website; there’s a wealth of information under the button “The Dilemma” and a variety of ways to pushback under the “Take Action” button.

The Social Dilemma was created by the Center for Humane Technology, which was founded in 2013 by a Google design ethicist. The Center’s website provides terrific resources for understanding the effects of social media platforms and how to use them intelligently. It has modules for parents and educators on how to help teens be safe, smart users of social media.

Last fall, a former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, blew the whistle on Facebook’s practices with testimony to Congress, an appearance on 60 Minutes, and a trove of inside documents that the Wall Street Journal reported on extensively. (Blogger Whitney Tilson in one of her posts provides links to Haugen’s interview on 60 Minutes and to the Wall St. Journal’s investigative articles based on documents provided by Haugen. Tilson also wrote a letter to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg that’s part of her blog post.)

Haugen documented that Facebook is a threat to our children and our democracy. Furthermore, she made it clear that Facebook knows this but fails to take steps to reduce the harm because doing so would hurt profits. I previously wrote about the threats of Facebook to our children and our democracy here and what can be done about them here.

Instagram, a Facebook partner under the Meta Platforms umbrella, says it only allows users on its platform who are 13 or older, but its age verification tools are weak. Its algorithm (i.e., its decision-making processes) for what information to direct to individual users has been shown to promote harmful content to youth who are particularly susceptible to such messages, such as material promoting eating disorders. Instagram was developing a separate product targeting children under 13 until criticism and pushback from parents and child advocacy organizations caused it to announce that it had paused (but not terminated) development.

A resource for responding to social media’s threats to children is an organization called Fairplay and its website. Formerly the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, Fairplay has been fighting for years to protect kids from the manipulation and harm from commercial advertising and social media platforms. If you want to get updates from Fairplay, click on “Connect” under the “About” button to sign-up. Fairplay helps parents manage kids’ screen time and provides alternatives to screen time. It sponsors a Screen-free Week every spring. It has established the Screen Time Action Network to support parents concerned about the effects of screen time and social media platforms on their children.

Returning to the story of that college professor, Joni Siani, who in 2006 saw the harm that Facebook did to her college students, in 2013, she wrote a book about the love-hate relationship between users and their digital devices titled Celling your soul: no app for life. And she started an organization called No App for Life.

In 2021, Siani and No App for Life partnered with Fairplay and its Screen Time Action Network to create three podcasts titled The Harms. They present three stories of parents who lost a child due to social media platforms’ harmful impacts on their children. One describes the ruthless assaults of social media “friends” that led to a suicide. One describes how “fun” online challenges can lead to horrible results. And one describes how drug dealers sell their products on social media, even posting ads amongst all the other ads seen on social media constantly. These horrific examples are from strong families who were trying to do everything right in managing their children’s social media activities but were overwhelmed by the power of social media.

My next post will summarize Meta Platforms recent announcement of new and planned parental supervision tools, as well as the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act, which has been introduced in Congress.

[1]      Rogers, J., & Siani, J., 3/6/22, “What do I do now? Unthinkable stories Big Tech  doesn’t want to tell,” Fairplay’s Screen Time Action Network and No App for Life Podcasts (https://fairplayforkids.org/harms-podcast/)

SUPPORTING CHILDREN AND FAMILIES: SOMETHING EVERY DEMOCRAT OUGHT TO BE CAMPAIGNING ON NOW

Note: If you find my posts too long or too dense to read on occasion, please just read the bolded portions. They present the key points I’m making and the most important information I’m sharing.

Democrats in Congress and the Biden Administration enacted a nearly universal Child Tax Credit as part of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) in March 2021. It provided almost every family in America with $3,600 annually for each child under age 6 and $3,000 for each child age 6 and up. Importantly, the credit was paid on a monthly basis rather than having to wait until one filed a tax return at the end of the year to get the money. In effect, it provided a universal basic monthly income for families with kids, something most wealthy countries do. [1]

The effect of this enhanced Child Tax Credit was dramatic – the child poverty rate declined by almost half. However, ARPA authorized these payments for only one year. Many politicians and policy analysts thought that the program would prove so effective and so popular that it would be extended. This is what was proposed by the Biden Administration and most Democrats in Congress as part of the Build Back Better bill.

Last summer, as the Build Back Better (BBB) bill was taking shape, the debate between Democratic progressives and centrists was whether to make the enhanced Child Tax Credit permanent or just extend it for five years. But then, Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema went rogue. They claimed they were concerned about the budgetary impact, but voted for an increased defense budget many times more expensive. They claimed that families were benefiting from it that didn’t need it or deserve it. I’ll come back to these arguments below.

Now, the question is whether any form of the enhanced Child Tax Credit will survive in whatever the Build Back Better bill becomes.

Longstanding research shows substantial benefits for child outcomes from family economic support. This research was bolstered very recently by a research paper published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In a randomized control trial, the most definitive kind of scientific study (the same approach as is used for testing new drugs), monthly cash support of $4,000 per year given to poor mothers with infants was found to result in changes in the infant’s brain activity that are associated with better development of important cognitive skills. [2]

Despite the strong body of research that documents that economic support for families improves children’s cognitive, school success, and life success outcomes, the Republicans and a few Democrats in Congress let the enhanced Child Tax Credit expire in January. As a result, 3.7 million more children are now in families living in poverty. The overall child poverty rate increased from 12.1% to 17.0% (a 41% increase in the poverty rate) and the impact on non-White children was greater:

  • White children in poverty increased from    7.5% to 11.4% (+3.9%)
  • Black children in poverty increased from   19.5% to 25.4% (+5.9%)
  • Latino children in poverty increased from  16.8% to 23.9% (+7.1%)
  • Asian children in poverty increased from   11.9% to 15.1% (+3.2%) [3]

The Child Tax Credit is a potent anti-poverty program. It is also extremely efficient. There are no middlemen, no application hassles, and no bureaucracy required to determine who’s eligible and who’s not; the government just provides money to all families with children, the same way it provides money to all seniors through Social Security. And the benefits are taxable, so higher income families who have less need for the money pay some of it back in income tax.

Senator Manchin has said he might support an enhanced Child Tax Credit if it had strict income limits or a work requirement. This would make it an inefficient, counter-productive policy because it requires a large bureaucratic effort to determine who is eligible and who isn’t, and mistakes will undoubtedly occur. It creates complexity and confusion because parents’ work status and income can change, often frequently for low-income workers and those in part-time jobs. Furthermore, it creates what are called “cliff effects” where as a parent’s earned income increases, they fall off the eligibility cliff and lose benefits. This creates a perverse incentive for low-income workers to refuse increases in pay or hours, or even to refuse a new job, because this might reduce their eligibility for benefits from the Child Tax Credit.

It would also make the Child Tax Credit less politically popular because middle-class parents wouldn’t get it. This reduced political support means that it will be more likely to be cut or eliminated in the future.

The Child Tax Credit is an issue that exposes the hypocrisy of many Republicans and some conservative Democrats. They claim they support family values and a right to life (as well as to liberty and the pursuit of happiness), but don’t support the enhanced Child Tax Credit that supports families and improves a child’s likelihood of leading a successful and fulfilling life.

I urge you to contact President Biden and your U.S. Representative and Senators to let them know that you support the enhanced Child Tax Credit, which would provide economic support to over 36 million families and over 61 million children. Tell them that this is what family values really are all about and that this is what a right to a life is all about for children in America.

You can email President Biden at http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments or you can call the White House comment line at 202-456-1111 or the switchboard at 202-456-1414.

You can find contact information for your U.S. Representative at  http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your U.S. Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

[1]      Kuttner, R., 2/18/22, “Save the Child Tax Credit,” The American Prospect blog (https://prospect.org/blogs/tap/save-the-child-tax-credit/)

[2]      Troller-Renfree, S. V., et al., 2/1/22, “The impact of a poverty reduction intervention on infant brain activity,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (https://www.pnas.org/content/119/5/e2115649119)

[3]      Center on Poverty and Social Policy, 2/17/22, “3.7 million more children in poverty in Jan 2022 without monthly Child Tax Credit,” Columbia University (https://www.povertycenter.columbia.edu/news-internal/monthly-poverty-january-2022)

POLICIES FOR UNITY, i.e., FOR LIBERTY, JUSTICE, AND EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL

What unites all truly patriotic Americans are the promises of our democracy: liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all. These aspirational principles and ideals are what make our democratic republic exceptional. (See my previous post for more detail.) To work toward unity and achieving our democracy’s goals, we and our elected leaders must undertake an honest search for the common good, common ground, and how to best promote the general welfare via government of, by, and for all the people.

Unity requires economic security and equal opportunity for all, so one’s choices in life (i.e., one’s liberty and freedom) are not constrained by economic deprivation or unaffordable necessities of life such as food, shelter, health care, and education. Unity means equal opportunity for all, particularly for every child. This is what valuing families or “family values” should mean to all of us.

We can’t have unity when a million people a week are requesting unemployment benefits and millions are struggling to put food on the table and avoid eviction, while 660 billionaires have added $1.1 trillion (an average of $1.7 billion each) to their wealth since March.

Unity requires adherence to facts and a commitment to seeking and promoting truth. Without this, there is no common ground on which to formulate policies and make decisions. Unity requires acknowledging the results of the 2020 election and stating that they were legitimate and fair. The media must stop promoting false equivalencies – of truth with untruth and alternative “facts” (which aren’t facts, of course) – and either ignore or prominently label false narratives and statements as such. A return to the Fairness Doctrine governing broadcast media (TV and radio), which was repealed in 1987, should be considered to require those using the public airwaves (which requires a public license) to present information on issues of public importance and to do so honestly, equitably, and in a balanced manner. Similar regulation of social and cable media should also be explored.

Unity requires a fair and unbiased application of the rule of law. Everyone must be held accountable to the same set of legal standards or a society cannot function; it would be riven with divisiveness and fighting among factions. Violent protesters of all stripes need to face equal justice and those who aided and abetted violent protests must be held accountable under the law as well. There needs to be acknowledgement of racial bias and harm. Then, there needs to be restorative justice if unity is to be achieved.

Unity requires our elected officials to work together in good faith to promote the general welfare. Certainly, there will be differences of opinion, but they must be resolved through good faith negotiations and compromise. Obstructionism is antithetical to unity.

Hypocrisy is also antithetical to unity. Different standards or principles cannot be applied in the same or similar situations. There are too many examples of this in our politics and society today to do justice to them all, but examples include:

  • Condemning violence against police that occurs in demonstrations for racial justice but not when it occurs in an insurrection targeted at stopping the democratic transition of power.
  • Blocking the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice nine months before the end of a Democratic president’s term but confirming a Republican President’s nominee on short notice just three months before the end of his term.
  • Opposing deficit spending when proposed by Democrats to help working Americans but not when proposed by Republicans to cut taxes on wealthy individuals and corporations.

Here are some specific, largely short-term, actions and policies our elected leaders must embrace if they truly wish to strive for unity:

  • President Biden’s appointees must be approved in a timely fashion, with appropriate oversight of course. This applies to Cabinet members, other executive branch positions, and to judges.
  • Financial assistance must be provided to working Americans. Over 1 million workers are still applying for unemployment each week. The economy has not rebounded to the point where emergency assistance is no longer needed; millions of families are facing hunger and homelessness. Additional direct financial assistance is needed, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, among many others, has stated. Furthermore, unemployment benefits need to be extended and enhanced and the minimum wage needs to be raised – for those who have jobs and those re-entering the workforce.
  • For workers doing face-to-face work, their safety must be assured. Strong, enforceable and enforced safety standards are a necessity.
  • Financial assistance must be provided to small businesses. Thousands of small businesses have gone out of business and thousands more are on the verge of doing so. Financial supports for large corporations through Federal Reserve and Treasury programs that operate largely out of the public eye have been very generous (trillions of dollars) and very successful. This is evidenced by the fact that the stock markets are at all-time highs, believe it or not, despite the struggles of small businesses and working Americans.
  • Funding is needed for COVID vaccinations. Money is needed for distribution of the vaccines and to help financially strapped states and communities implement vaccination programs. The quicker and more effective the rollout of vaccinations, the greater the number of lives that will be saved and of illnesses that will be prevented. The Federal Reserve and others have also noted the importance of vaccinations to the recovery of the economy.
  • Financial assistance is needed for state and local governments, as they have seen their revenue fall dramatically and their costs increase with the pandemic. Without this assistance, state and local governments have been laying off tens of thousands of workers which hurts the workers, the economy and its recovery, and the delivery of badly needed government services.
  • Criminal justice system reform must be undertaken aggressively. Racism needs to be eliminated from all components of the system. Police need strong national standards and oversight on the use of force and racism. The school (and even preschool) to prison pipeline needs to be ended and more appropriate interventions and discipline instituted. Mental health services need to be made available to children, youth, and adults instead of throwing these problems to the criminal justice system. Prosecution and sentencing need to fair and the use of restorative justice needs to be expanded. Rehabilitation and successful re-entry to society need to be the focus of imprisonment, probation, and parole.

President Biden’s Executive Orders are beginning to address many of these issues. They are promoting unity (despite claims otherwise by some Republicans) because they are implementing policies that most Americans support, but which haven’t made it through Congress due to partisanship. For example, 83% of Americans support a ban on workplace discrimination based on sexual identification, 77% want the government to promote racial equity, 75% support the government requiring masks on federal property, and 68% support the continued suspension of federal student loan repayments. A majority of Americans support rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris climate accords. [1]

People calling for unity are hypocrites unless they are committed to honestly working toward the vision of our democracy and our Constitution for liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all or, in other words, for promotion of the general welfare. Without such a commitment, there can be no unity.

My next post will highlight more specific and longer-term policies that will promote unity and our shared vision of liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all.

[1]      Richardson, H.C., 1/29/21, Letters from an American blog post,” (https://heathercoxrichardson.substack.com/p/january-29-2021)

UNIFYING AMERICA

We do need to unify America, both among the public and our policy makers, particularly our partisan Members of Congress. However, there are some people whose minds are like concrete, thoroughly mixed and permanently set – often based on false information – who cannot be convinced to share in a unified vision of America. We will need to ignore them at times and at other times to counter their destructive messages and acts.

What we have that truly unites us all are the promises of our democracy: its principles and ideals of liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all. As the preamble to Constitution states, the United States of America was formed to create “a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

These principles and ideals are what make our democratic republic exceptional – not what was actually established in 1789, not what it looks like today, and not what it has been at any time in between. The aspiration to achieve this vision is what is exceptional and we have struggled to live up to it to this day.

There is great diversity in America – which can and should be one of our strengths – and significant differences of opinion on how to achieve the promises of our democracy. We need to approach these differences rationally and collegially, with an eye on the overarching vision.

To unify America, we need a unity of purpose, driven by our vision for our democracy, and to be delivered by government of, by, and for all the people. Unifying America requires an honest search for the common good, common ground, and how to best to “promote the general welfare”. Loyal opposition is fine but not destructive opposition, not obstructionism, nor radical revolutionaries trying to tear down our democratic institutions and processes.

In today’s economy and society, we need to reconceptualize the commitments to liberty, freedom, and the promotion of the general welfare. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in his State of the Union Address in 1944 argued that the “political rights” guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had “proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness”. FDR proposed an “economic bill of rights” to guarantee equal opportunity and freedom from want that included the:

  • Right to a job and a fair income that could support a family,
  • Right to a decent home,
  • Right to health care and health,
  • Right to social security in old age, sickness, unemployment, and injury,
  • Right to a good education, and
  • Freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies.

To unify America, we need to work toward liberty and freedom for all built on economic security and equal opportunity so one’s choices (i.e., one’s liberty and freedom) in life are not constrained by poverty, economic deprivation, or unaffordable necessities of life such as food, shelter, health care, and education.

To ensure liberty and freedom for all in our new democratic republic, the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, was adopted in 1791. These rights remain critically important. However, we need to review the implementation of some of them in light of current technology and current politics.

On freedom of speech, we need to figure out how to regulate free speech on social media; to figure out what is the social media equivalent of yelling “FIRE” in the middle of a crowded theater. Recent events have made it clear that unbridled free speech on social media has contributed to violence and terrorism (i.e., speech that puts people in fear or psychological distress). In addition, social media have contributed to the dissemination of harmful misinformation. How to appropriately control speech on social media – allowing robust speech and conversations while limiting harm – is something we need to figure out.

Freedom of speech in our democracy, where all people are promised equality, means giving equal volume to every voice in America. Giving a bullhorn to those with money and a muzzle to those without money is antithetical to our vision for American democracy. Current legal interpretations equate spending money with free speech, including spending by corporations (not just spending by human beings). This needs to be reconsidered if we want to unify America.

Freedom of religion was meant to allow each individual to practice his or her own religion without the government dictating what an individual could believe or practice. Today, legal interpretations have gone beyond this and, for example, given employers the right to deny contraceptives and other health care to women because of the employer’s religious beliefs. Legal interpretations have also given health care provider institutions and individuals, who are licensed by the government, the right to deny both services and information to patients based on the provider’s religious beliefs. If we want to unify America, freedom of religion should not impede an individual’s right to make decisions with full information and with all choices available to her or him. Individual’s choices should not be dictated or constrained by others’ religious beliefs.

Justice for all means that everyone’s treatment in our society and justice system should be equal and fair, and that the rule of law should be applied fairly and equally to everyone. Anyone and everyone who violates the law must be held accountable. If some people are allowed to violate the law with impunity and others are prosecuted and punished, there won’t be unity. A dramatic, historical example is that after the Civil War we failed to hold the leaders of the Confederacy accountable. We allowed them to return to power in state and local governments. The result was Jim Crow laws and the re-subjugation of African Americans. This underscores the importance of holding white supremacists and racists accountable for their domestic terrorism and other violations of the law today, 150 years later.

Justice for all also means that if some people have received unfairly harsh treatment from our laws and criminal justice system, there cannot by unity until those wrongs are acknowledged and corrected, including providing just compensation.

Unifying America means providing equal opportunity to everyone, particularly to every child. This is what valuing families or “family values” should mean to all of us. One test for a just society is what ethicist John Rawls called the veil of ignorance. He defined a fair society as one where, if confronted with a veil of ignorance about our position and role in society, we would be willing to accept anyone’s position and role in the society. As an early childhood advocate, I’ve presented this as thinking that you are the baby that the stork is about to deliver and if you are comfortable being delivered to any parent in the society, then it’s a fair society. But if there are some parents (or for the previous description, some positions and roles in society) that you would not want to be delivered to or put in, then the society is unfair and unjust, as it does not provide equal opportunity for everyone.

If people truly want to unify America, they must be committed to honestly working toward the vision of our democracy and our Constitution for liberty, justice, and equal opportunity for all or, in other words, for promotion of the general welfare. Without this, there can be no unity.

In my next post, I will discuss these topics more specifically in terms of public policies and actions that are needed to unify America.

PROGRESSIVE POLICIES #1: UNIVERSAL CHILD CARE AND EARLY LEARNING

Access to affordable, high quality early care and education (ECE) for children under school age is essential for allowing parents to be productive members of the workforce and for putting young children, especially those from families facing economic or other challenges, on a trajectory for success. Therefore, providing universal ECE is an important progressive policy priority.

For 65% of children under age six, all parents are working. The lack of affordable ECE means that some parents can’t afford to work, reducing the labor force participation of parents – a loss to our economy. In addition, reduced productivity due to employees’ inadequate or undependable ECE costs businesses billions of dollars a year because of absenteeism and other impacts on parents’ ability to work productively.

Low-income families spend, on average, over 17% of their incomes for ECE. The federal government’s benchmark for affordability is that ECE should cost no more than 7% of income. With two or more children, ECE often costs more than a parent can earn. Therefore, it can make economic sense for a parent to drop out of the workforce and care for the children.

Because providers of ECE must make their services affordable for parents, in many cases they cannot afford to provide high quality services. In particular, they cannot afford to pay ECE teachers enough to consistently attract and retain top notch staff. ECE teachers are paid much less than what they would make in other positions, for example as a public school teacher. Despite the push to have ECE teachers have a Bachelor’s degree, as public-school teachers do, their pay is about half that of public school teachers.

ECE teachers make less than $24,000 on average; pay so low that roughly half of them require public assistance, such as Food Stamps, to make ends meet. Therefore, turnover is high – which does not provide the stability of consistent relationships that children need or the quality of services that an experienced, stable workforce can deliver.

Investments in young children and their families can produce a high return on investment (ROI) – up to $17 for every dollar spent – according to numerous studies. High quality ECE for children, coupled with support for low-income parents, reduces the need for special education and grade retention in schools, reduces high school dropout rates and involvement with the criminal justice system, and increases children’s educational attainment and their future earnings. More recent studies have identified long-term improvements in health and mental health, as well as benefits for the next generation of children. These more recently identified outcomes have not yet been factored into the ROI calculations; they will undoubtedly increase the ROI for investments in young children and their families, probably substantially above the 17 to 1 return calculated by the Perry Preschool Study.

Current federal ECE programs serve only a fraction of eligible children because funding is limited. Head Start serves fewer than 50% of eligible 3 and 4 year olds (i.e., those in families below the poverty line, which is only $21,000 for a family of three that not infrequently consists of a single parent with two young children). Early Head Start, for families with a child from birth to three, serves fewer than 10% of those eligible. Finally, the Child Care and Development Fund, which subsidizes ECE for all other families, serves only about 16% of the eligible families (1 in 6).

Senator (and presidential candidate) Elizabeth Warren has made a detailed policy proposal for universally accessible ECE. Her Universal Child Care and Early Learning plan would:

  • Provide universal access to locally run ECE in centers, homes, or other settings so every family can choose the ECE it would prefer and every child has the opportunity to reach his or her full potential.
  • Ensure affordability by providing ECE free to families below twice the poverty line (about $51,500 for a family of 4) and on a sliding fee basis to other families so no family pays more than 7% of its income for ECE.
  • Guarantee high quality services, including comprehensive support for children’s growth and development, such as health, dental, and other services to ensure a safe, nurturing early childhood experience.
  • Compensate ECE teachers at the same level as public school teachers and provide them with professional development opportunities, which will improve quality and reduce turnover.

An independent economic analysis estimates that such a program of universal, affordable, high quality ECE would cost about $70 billion per year. Senator Warren proposes paying for this with a wealth tax that would generate $275 billion per year. (See my previous post for more details and options on how to pay for progressive policies like this one.)

Universal, affordable ECE would increase labor force participation and productivity, thereby stimulating economic growth and increasing tax revenue. Therefore, universal ECE would, at least in part, pay for itself in the short-term, and over the long-term the return on investment due to improved outcomes for the children would more than pay for this investment in our young children and their families.

CORPORATE PROFITS MORE IMPORTANT THAN BABIES’ SURVIVAL

The influence of large corporations on federal policy is nothing new, although the Trump administration seems to be even more unabashedly aligned with corporate interests than previous administrations. Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s callousness and inhumanity on issues having to do with families and children is clear, most notably in its policy of separating immigrant parents and children – despite the First Lady’s “Be Best” campaign that promotes good child outcomes.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration’s efforts to undermine a World Health Organization (WHO) resolution in support of breastfeeding shocked medical professionals, diplomats, and public health officials around the world. In case you haven’t heard, the US delegation to a WHO meeting in May attempted to block and then succeeded in somewhat watering down a resolution that called on governments to “protect, promote and support breastfeeding” and to put limits on misleading and dangerous marketing of breast-milk substitutes, such as infant formula, and other food products harmful to young children.

This effort by US officials promoted the interests of the $70 billion infant formula industry, despite decades of evidence of the benefits of breastfeeding over the use of infant formula. [1] Lobbyists for the industry were present at the meeting to support the Trump administration’s efforts. [2] The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for a baby’s first 6 months whenever possible, as well as for the next 6 months or longer as other foods are appropriately introduced. [3]

Some of you may remember the boycott of Nestle in the 1970s when it was aggressively promoting infant formula in developing countries where clean water for preparing infant formula was often not available. Babies died because infant formula was contaminated with bad water and because mothers couldn’t afford to the continue with the formula but couldn’t breast-feed because they had stopped lactating. Abbott Laboratories, based in Chicago, is one of the biggest corporations in the infant formula industry, along with Nestle, which is based in Switzerland but has a significant presence in the US.

Breastfeeding is the cheapest, easiest, and safest form of nutrition for infants in most cases, especially for low-income mothers and where clean, safe water is not reliably available. A 2016 study found that universal breastfeeding would save 800,000 infants’ lives annually around the world, while saving $300 billion as well. Breast milk provides not only nutrition, but hormones and antibodies that protect babies from diseases. Breast-fed infants have significantly fewer respiratory tract, ear, and gastrointestinal infections. Breast-feeding is also associated with lower risks of sudden infant death syndrome, allergies, asthma, eczema, celiac disease, bowel disease, diabetes, obesity, and leukemia. Mothers who breast-feed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, and high blood pressure. [4]

As part of its efforts to block the breastfeeding resolution, the US delegation threatened to cut its funding for the World Health Organization. The US is the biggest funder of the WHO, providing about 15% of its budget or $845 million. The WHO is essential to public health globally and in the US, as it provides, for example, the first response to flu and Ebola epidemics wherever they occur. It also plays a leading role in addressing the rising death toll from diabetes and cardiovascular disease around the world.

Ecuador, the original sponsor of the breastfeeding resolution, withdrew its sponsorship after the US threatened it with trade sanctions and withdrawal of military assistance, which helps it deal with violence spilling over its border with Columbia. Health advocates scrambled to find another sponsor, but at least a dozen other countries refused citing fear of retaliation from the US. Russia finally agreed to sponsor the resolution, and apparently the US did not threaten it. [5]

Nonetheless, the US succeeded in weakening parts of the resolution. It insisted on adding the words “evidence-based” to references to long-standing practices that promote breastfeeding, despite public health experts pointing out that doing random assignment studies (where some children would be denied breast milk) to establish “evidence-based” outcomes would be ethically and morally unacceptable. The US unfortunately succeeded in getting language removed from the resolution that called on the WHO to support governments in their efforts to block the “inappropriate promotion of foods to infants and young children.”

In another part of the resolution, the US succeeded, unfortunately, in removing language that supported taxing sugar-laden soft drinks as a strategy for addressing soaring rates of obesity around the world. Fortunately, however, the US was unsuccessfully in its attempts to block a WHO program that helps poor countries obtain life-saving medicines at an affordable cost; opposition to this program comes, not surprisingly, from the pharmaceutical corporations.

It is appalling to me that the US government is making corporate profits a higher priority than the lives, health, and well-being of children and adults around the world, including in the US. These examples from the WHO meeting are some of the more dramatic and appalling ones, but there are plenty of other ones.

Corporate profits have been prioritized over the well-being of workers and the middle class in the US, in a variety of ways, for almost 40 years now. This is why US voters were so angry with the status quo in the federal government that in 2016 almost half of eligible voters did not vote in the presidential election and why almost half of those that did vote, voted for Trump. (He won in the Electoral College even though he lacked a majority of the actual votes.)

We need to change our policy priorities and put people first and regulate corporations so they serve the public good. The whole point of allowing the creation of corporations and other limited liability organizations was to more efficiently promote the public good and an economy where everyone could pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The purpose for corporations and the priorities of our public policies have gotten turned upside down. Particularly in the US., but elsewhere as well, the priorities of government and the role of corporations in our economy need to be returned to those of the late 1940s through the 1970s when income inequality was much lower and economic security was much higher.

[1]      Khazan, O., 7/10/18, “The epic battle between breast milk and infant-formula companies,” The Atlantic

[2]      Jacobs, A., 7/8/18, “U.S. opposition to breast-feeding resolution stuns world health officials,” The New York Times

[3]      Williams, E., 7/10/18, “Breastfeeding: The benefits,” The Boston Globe

[4]      Rabin, R. C., 7/9/18, “Trump stance on breast-feeding and formula criticized by medical experts,” The New York Times

[5]      Jacobs, A., 7/8/18, see above

SUPPORTING FAMILIES IS AN INVESTMENT IN HUMAN CAPITAL Part 2

ABSTRACT: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. This increases stress for parents, hurts their ability to be good parents, and adversely affects child and adolescent outcomes. Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children.

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of those who are mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

FULL POST: More than one out of every five American workers is working a non-standard work schedule. These work schedules include hours outside of the normal 9 to 5 work day or that vary from week to week. In some cases, the number of hours worked varies from one week to the next making income uncertain and managing a budget difficult at best. Non-standard work schedules increase stress for parents, hurt their ability to be good parents, and adversely affect child and adolescent outcomes. [1]

Providing predictable work schedules for parents and allowing them flexibility to meet parenting responsibilities is good for them and their children – an investment in our human capital. If our society truly values families, we will support them with work schedules that allow them to be good parents. (See my post Big ideas to help working parents for a set of policies, including predictable work schedules, that would help working families.)

The prevalence of non-standard work schedules is increasing. One reason is that the number of part-time and temporary or contingent jobs is increasing as the number of full-time jobs is decreasing. Another reason is that computerized scheduling programs now allow employers to match staffing levels to customer demand with greater precision and, therefore, to engage in “just-in-time” scheduling of employees. In some cases, employers call employees to come into work on short notice or require them to work beyond their scheduled shift if there is unexpectedly high demand. They also may send employees home (without pay) when they show up for scheduled work if business is slow.

For hourly workers, over half (including 44% of mothers with a child under 13) know their work schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for almost three-quarters of them the number of hours they work (and hence their income) varies from week to week. For hourly food service workers, over 80% know their schedules less than 2 weeks in advance and for 90% of them the number of hours worked varies from week to week. The lack of a consistent work schedule often prevents these workers from being able to take a second job to increase their typically low incomes.

Non-standard work schedules can prevent parents from being able to adequately care for, supervise, and be engaged with their children. They may not be able to be home when children leave for school or arrive home – resulting in latch-key children who are home alone. Similarly, they may not be able to make regular child care arrangements, which is likely to decrease the quality of care a child receives. Scheduling doctors’ appointments and teacher meetings may be difficult as well.

In general, parents working non-standard work schedules cannot provide children the consistent schedules and nurturing that are critical to healthy child growth and development. As a result, their children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes are likely to suffer. For example:

  • Their toddlers exhibit problems with language development, problem solving, and learning.
  • Their preschoolers have more negative behaviors – anxiety, withdrawal, and aggression.
  • Their adolescents are more likely to exhibit delinquent, aggressive, and other negative behaviors. [2]

Non-standard work schedules are more common for younger, less educated, lower income, and minority workers. In addition, they are more common for single mothers. All of these characteristics of parents increase the risk of compromised child outcomes, and the higher likelihood of non-standard work schedules further increases this risk.

Changes in labor policies could benefit workers with non-standard work schedules and provide incentives for employers to give workers more consistent work schedules. Labor laws could require employers to give workers at least 4 weeks’ notice of their work schedules and require that they be paid for scheduled hours even if business is slow. Employers could be required to pay time and a half for extended shifts or work hours outside of the standard 9 to 5 window.

Because these policy changes are almost certain to improve worker morale, absenteeism and turnover are likely to go down and productivity is likely to go up. The cost savings these produce for employers will offset some if not all of any costs to employers of these policy changes. These policies would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s working parents.

[1]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). “Parents’ non-standard work schedules make adequate child rearing difficult,” Economic Policy Institute (http://www.epi.org/publication/parents-non-standard-work-schedules-make-adequate-childrearing-difficult-reforming-labor-market-practices-can-improve-childrens-cognitive-and-behavioral-outcomes/)

[2]       Morsy, L., & Rothstein, R. (8/6/15). See above.

SUPPORTING FAMILIES IS AN INVESTMENT IN HUMAN CAPITAL Part 1

ABSTRACT: Parents with a child under 18 years of age make up over 22% of the of the US labor force. These parents represent an important part of the human capital of our economy, and their children represent the human capital of our future economy. Therefore, supporting these families with paid leave when a new child arrives is an investment in our current and future human capital. The US is one of only three countries in the world that does not require paid parental leave.

Many mothers return to work very shortly after the birth of their child: 23% return to work within 2 weeks of having a child. A quick return to work is unhealthy for both the mother and the child, but many families need the income to make ends meet.

Some states and cities in the US have adopted paid family leave programs. Despite employers’ dire warnings at the time of their enactment, a recent study found that that these paid leave requirements have not hurt profitability, productivity, or turnover.

It’s time for the US to catch up with the rest of the world and do what’s only humane for our families and children, require paid parental leave when a new child joins a family. This would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s families. Paid family leave has been shown to work – it benefits children and families substantially, while it has no negative effects on employers and may actual benefit them.

FULL POST: Parents with a child under 18 years of age make up over 22% of the of the US labor force. In these families, 93% of fathers and 70% of mothers work. [1] In 60% of these households, both parents are working, and this is only slightly lower for families with a child under 1 year old. [2] These parents represent an important part of the human capital of our economy, and their children represent the human capital of our future economy.

Therefore, supporting these families with paid leave when a new child arrives is an investment in our current and future human capital, no less so than education and job training. If our society truly values families, we will support them with paid family leave. (See my post Big ideas to help working parents for a set of policies, including paid leave, that would help working families.) The US is one of only three countries in the world that does not require paid parental leave. (The other two are Papua New Guinea and Suriname.) Some Scandinavian countries offer over a year of paid parental leave.

Only 13% of US workers have access to paid family leave and they are typically highly paid, salaried employees. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave but only for the roughly 60% of US workers that are at companies with over 50 employees and who have been at their current job for over a year. However, many of the eligible employees cannot afford to go 12 weeks without pay and therefore don’t take the FMLA leave.

Many workers – usually mothers – stitch together vacation time, sick time, and personal days to take time off at the birth of a child. Some buy disability insurance policies that cover maternity leave. Some take unpaid leave or quit working, but many mothers return to work very shortly after the birth of their child: 23% return to work within 2 weeks of having a child. [3]

A quick return to work is unhealthy for both the mother and the child. In particular, mothers who take longer maternity leaves are less likely to experience depression. Mothers who go back to work sooner, breastfeed their children less, which leads to increased illness, obesity, allergies, and even sudden infant death syndrome in their children. Shorter maternity leaves also can negatively affect the child’s development of motor skills, social skills, and language. A study in Europe found that paid leaves and longer paid leaves were correlated with a decrease in the death rate for young children, especially infants under 1 year old.

Some states and cities in the US have adopted paid family leave programs. California’s has been in place since 2002 and New Jersey’s since 2008. Despite employers’ dire warnings at the time of their enactment, a recent study found that that these paid leave requirements have not hurt profitability, productivity, or turnover. Other studies have found that paid leave and workplace flexibility for parents increase productivity, profitability, the ability to recruit talented workers, and the stock performance for companies; improve job satisfaction and work-family balance for workers; and reduce absenteeism, turnover, and worker replacement costs for employers. [4]

The Obama administration has recently announced grants to help states establish paid family leave programs and a number of the 2016 presidential candidates, notably Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, have put forth strong proposals for paid family leave.

It’s time for the US to catch up with the rest of the world and do what’s only humane for our families and children, require paid parental leave when a new child joins a family. This would be a step toward implementing genuine family values for America’s families. It’s also an investment in the human capital of our current and future workforce. Despite employers’ dire warnings about its impacts, paid family leave in other countries, as well as in states and cities here in the US, has been shown to work – it benefits children and families substantially, while it has no negative effects on employers and may actual benefit them.

[1]       Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4/23/15, “Employment characteristics of families,” US Dept. of Labor (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm)

[2]       Council of Economic Advisers, June 2014, “Nine facts about American families and work,” Executive Office of the President of the United States (https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/docs/nine_facts_about_family_and_work_real_final.pdf)

[3]       Lerner, S., Aug. 2015, “The real war on families,” In These Times

[4]       Council of Economic Advisers, June 2014, see above

BIG IDEAS TO HELP WORKING PARENTS

ABSTRACT: Working parents in the U.S. are struggling both to make ends meet and to be good parents. They need to be paid a reasonable wage so that full-time work provides a decent standard of living for their families (as it used to). Furthermore, employers and government should work together to ensure that workplaces are family-friendly. These are the first two topics of Ten Big Ideas to Save the Economy, presented by MoveOn.org and Robert Reich in 3 minute videos.

The first Big Idea is the Fight for $15 – the campaign for a $15 minimum wage. If the minimum wage had kept up with increases in productivity since 1968, the minimum wage would be over $21 per hour. If it had simply kept up with inflation it would be over $10 per hour. If we want to be a decent and fair society, we need to pay working parents a decent and fair wage. Also, a higher minimum wage would save employers money be reducing turnover.

The second Big Idea is a set of policies and practices that make work family-friendly. Working parents need:

  • Equal pay for women
  • Predictable schedules with regular hours
  • Reliable, high quality child care
  • Paid family leave

We don’t have a healthy society if we don’t have healthy families and we can’t have a strong country if we don’t have strong families. Providing basic economic security and family-friendly workplaces for our working parents is critical to having strong, healthy families. This is not only an essential investment in families and our economy, but also in our future – our children.

FULL POST: Working parents in the U.S. are struggling both to make ends meet and to be good parents. They need to be paid a reasonable wage so that full-time work provides a decent standard of living for their families (as it used to). Furthermore, employers and government should work together to ensure that workplaces are family-friendly. These are the first two topics of Ten Big Ideas to Save the Economy, presented in 3 minute videos by Robert Reich (President Clinton’s Secretary of Labor) and MoveOn.org (the progressive, grassroots organization promoting participation in our democracy).

The first of these ten commonsense ideas to make our economy work for everyone is the Fight for $15 – the campaign for a $15 minimum wage. A $15 per hour wage would mean that a full-time worker would make about $30,000 a year. [1] Even at this level, many families would still be struggling to make ends meet. Currently, with the federal minimum wage at $7.25, a third of all families live paycheck to paycheck. If, since 1968, the minimum wage had kept up with increases in workers’ productivity (how much the output of their work is worth), the minimum wage would be over $21 per hour. If it had simply kept up with inflation it would be over $10 per hour. If we want to be a decent and fair society, we need to pay working parents a decent and fair wage.

Minimum wage workers are not kids making a little spending money; half of them are over 35 years old, many are women, and many are supporting families. A higher minimum wage would save employers money be reducing turnover, which reduces the costs of recruiting and training new workers. A number of cities (e.g., Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles) have made the commitment to raising their minimum wages to $15 an hour; the rest of the country should follow suit.

The second Big Idea is a set of policies and practices that make work family-friendly. [2] For starters, women should receive equal pay. Also, working parents need predictable schedules with regular hours so they can plan their families’ schedules and know how much income they will have. In some business sectors (such as retail sales, food service, and home care), the majority of workers don’t know their schedules a week in advance. Some only get a few hours’ notice and some show up at work and are told to go home (without any pay) because it’s a slow day. Many employers manage part-time workers’ schedules to make sure they don’t earn any overtime or qualify for benefits. [3]

Reliable, high quality child care, including for out-of-school time when parents are working, needs to be universally available and affordable. Parents (both mothers and fathers) should receive paid family leave when a new child joins the family and if a health emergency occurs.

The benefits of raising the minimum wage and instituting family-friendly workplace policies are broad and reach well beyond workers and their families. Employers would benefit from having more reliable, productive employees. Society (i.e., taxpayers) would also benefit, not only from improved economic efficiency, but also because the children of working parents would be more likely to be successful in school and in life. Other developed countries have implemented most if not all of these policies; we can too if we have the public will to make this a priority.

We don’t have a healthy society if we don’t have healthy families and we can’t have a strong country if we don’t have strong families. Providing basic economic security and family-friendly workplaces is critical to having strong, healthy families. Family values means supporting working parents, which also gives their children a fair chance to succeed. Helping working parents is not only an essential investment in our families and our economy, but also in our children who are the future of our nation and our economy.

[1]       You can watch the 3 minute video at: http://civ.moveon.org/fightfor15/share.html?id=114907-5637721-4VHTwex#watch.

[2]       You can watch the 3 minute video at: http://civic.moveon.org/helpworkingfamilies/share.html?id=115612-5637721-L2wvmQx#watch.

[3]       Loth, R., 5/29/15, “For workers, ‘flexible’ schedule means unpredictability,” The Boston Globe